Leading art commentators argue funding body’s priorities are ‘political, not artistic’ and ‘hostile’ to majority ‘taste and values’Abolish Arts Council and its ‘Left-wing, woke agenda’ say critics
Two leading arts commentators are calling for Arts Council England (ACE) to be abolished, arguing it has been taken over by “highly-politicised staff” whose “Left-wing, woke agenda” is generally failing to support “art of real consequence”.
Alexander Adams, artist and art historian, and David Lee, editor of The Jackdaw magazine, say that the funding body’s priorities are “now political, not artistic”, while “hostile to the taste and values of the majority population”.
They describe ACE’s ethos as “rotten with politicisation and disregard for taxpayers”, adding that ACE-funded venues “allow creators resentful of native British people, their history and their majority demographic status”.
Their damning criticisms fill a new pamphlet, titled Abolish the Arts Council, published this weekend.
Mr Adams told The Telegraph: “Good artists have given up patience because they have been shut out of the system for not conforming to ACE’s Left-wing agenda. So, ACE has become an obstacle to the arts in this country.”
The pamphlet’s authors condemn a “suffocating political monoculture in the public arts”, where administrators are “disproportionately” Left-wing, anti-Brexit and anti-monarchy, and in which ACE “presents no genuine political diversity”.
ACE, alongside its regional sister organisations covering Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, is the UK’s largest arts funding organisation.
The pamphlet’s authors note that ACE’s annual budget for 2020-21 was £690 million, including £149 million from the Culture Recovery Fund, and employs as many as 639 full-time staff.
The authors despair that the current model of arts funding is “imperilled” by “politically-orientated staff”: “We are being denied art of real consequence because of the political agenda of ACE.”
Mr Adams said: “Staff are expected to agree with the Left-wing identity-politics views of ACE regarding racial bias and historical injustice.”
In the pamphlet, the authors argue that the organisation “has been captured and degraded by activists” and that local communities, charities and donors would rescue really deserving arts groups: “Abolition of ACE is a first step to reducing the surplus of creators who exist on public funds and contribute little excellent, memorable or serious physical culture.”
Mr Adams’s artworks are in the Victoria & Albert Museum, among other public institutions, and he has written books on Degas and Magritte. Last year, as The Telegraph reported, he accused the Institute of Contemporary Arts (ICA) in London of having become a political platform.
The new pamphlet notes that, in 2019-20, the ICA received £1.689 million from ACE and the Department for Culture, Media and Sport: “In return – while ICA staff were at home, furloughed – it emailed provocative press releases promoting anti-capitalism, race grievance, bail funds for violent criminals, decolonialisation, pornography, migration advocacy, sex in public and religious sectarianism.”
The pamphlet also condemns last year’s decision by English Touring Opera (ETO) to drop half of its musicians in the name of diversity, in line with “firm guidance of the Arts Council”.
Despairing over an “astonishingly incompetent, wasteful and inefficient” approach to arts funding, the authors write: “ACE’s largesse has reached appalling proportions. It commissioned 12 works of art to mark the London Olympic Games of 2012. The sole notable surviving artefact was a glorified funfair slide tower by Anish Kapoor; most of the others disappeared without trace,” they said. “£535,000 was spent on an environmental sculpture for Merseyside which was not even started because it was not feasible. The artist kept his fee of £40,000. In total, Kapoor’s janky intrusive piece of kitsch is all there is to show for £5.4 million.”
The pamphlet acknowledges ACE’s support for “serious cultural” projects, but laments that “this activity is not regarded by ACE as central to its mission”.
Michael Daley, director of ArtWatch UK, the arts watchdog, said: “The Adams/Lee analysis is on the nose. The Arts Council went seriously to the bad in the 1970s when it prioritised the creation of a proper career structure for its own officers who – as well as making awards to themselves – then acted as engineers of a subverting new order to rival and eclipse the diverse and competitive patronage of the art market’s many private galleries.”
Ignoring the criticisms, ACE said: “The public want high-quality, world-leading art and we want to ensure that people across the country, wherever they live, have the opportunity to see and engage with brilliant work, from fantastic opera and ballet, to fascinating museum collections and world-leading theatre productions.”
ICA and ETO declined to comment.